Cartographer's Toolkit

Map Making Tips, Tricks, and Inspiration

Review, etc.

January 28th, 2014

UPDATE: Cartographer’s Toolkit is now back up and ready for purchase!

I’m a little late to the party, but the University of Toronto journal Cartographica reviewed Cartographer’s Toolkit last year. You can read the two page review here. For the most part, the reviewer enjoyed the book and felt it is a useful tool for cartographers. “The overall quality of this book is superb,” for example.

There are a few typos in the book. Toolkit is spelled “Toolkitt” on the top of a few pages and my name is spelled incorrectly in one of the map captions. We are working on getting this corrected and out to the printer as soon as possible. In the meantime, you may see a 1-2 day delay message on the Amazon website and if you are ordering from another retailer or directly from Ingram, you may experience a few days delay as well. Rest assured, we are working on this just as quickly as possible on our end to get back up and running with the typos fixed. Thank you for your patience on this matter.

If you’re just dying to get your hands on the content, you can get the e-books for the first two chapters (not the third chapter, which is print only). Just use the link in the left-hand sidebar of this blog.

Data Are as Data Is

January 24th, 2014

As many of you know, the 2nd edition of GIS Cartography: A Guide to Effective Map Design is currently in the final final final stages of production. As I go through the page proofs one last time, I am reminded to let you dear readers know of one particularly noteworthy change to the text:

All “data are” references are now changed to “data is.” Undoubtedly this is cause for glee among the modernists. While “data are” is traditional and correcter* sometimes we (I) have to realize that traditional just doesn’t sound good or look good anymore.

A negative - positive space switch.

A non-traditional yet delightful negative – positive space switch.

*see what I did there

Top Ten Cartography Books

January 14th, 2014


Update 1/5/2016. This post was the most visited post of 2015 even though it was written in January of 2014! There have been quite a few great new books published since this post was originally written. You may want to check out The Art of Illustrated Maps, Designing Better Maps 2nd Edition (watch the blog for a review of this book–my copy is supposed to arrive in the mail today), Great Maps (Dk Smithsonian), and please keep an eye out for my new book (co-authored with Anita Graser) QGIS Map Design.


I’m in the process of curating my links page. I’m deleting a lot of items that are old or that I just don’t feel are worth your time anymore. I’m also adding in new links and books that have come out since the last update. It’s a long process because it’s a long list. However, I thought I’d pause and do a simpler, more visual link page right here on the blog with a few books that I have and love. These are books that I feel are absolutely worth while to add to your collection.

To be sure, I’ve got a heck of a lot of other books…you can see a portion of them in this map stack I took a while back:




These are Amazon affiliate links, which just means that I get a small bit of pocket change every time someone clicks on a link and buys something, which helps my latte habit, which helps me write more blog entries. See, it all comes full circle. I’m excluding my own books from this group, because you can find those links in the sidebar for this site. They are by far the best books of the bunch, naturally. Also excluded are books that may be excellent but that I don’t actually have. I like to stick with recommending what I’ve actually used.
# 10 The Map Book, Peter Barber, 2005

The Map Book is heavy, weighing in at 4.9 pounds, and large. And beautiful. Each double-page spread has a map on the right side and an explanation of that map on the left side. The top of each explanation page has a single sentence summarizing the map’s importance before going on with a more in-depth description. For example, page 170 says at the top, “A map of the Empire of Germany, sponsored by Prince Rupert of the Rhine, from the first truly English world atlas, reveals a microscopic secret.” The maps are arranged in chronological order, with the year written in prominent numerals for easy reference. This is a coffee table book that won’t make it to your coffee table because it will be on your desk, next to your computer, where you can reference it at will.
#9 Maps, Lena Corwin, 2010





Corwin’s book isn’t available on Amazon (click the image to go to her direct purchase page) but it is definitely worth getting. The book is a treat, from the cover and page material, to the pop art graphical maps that all have the same look and feel yet manage to capture the essence of each included city. I actually took an exacto knife to my copy and mounted some of the maps onto handmade paper to make a very unique poster. How Martha Stewart. The best thing about these maps? They make cartography look easy.
#8 The Modern Japanese Garden, Michiko Rico Nose, 2002

The reason for including this relatively obscure book that seemingly has nothing to do with cartography is to challenge you. Find a design subject that you like to read about and explore it to glean unique ideas for your own maps. It’s not that you need to buy this particular book, just something in a design genre that inspires you. Japanese gardens, for example, are extremely instructive in the principles of asymmetry, focal points, subdued color, pattern, and repetitive composition. This particular book is rich in photographs illustrating these principles and has a place in my at-hand reference library.
#7 Thematic Cartography and Geovisualization, Slocum et al, 2009

I used to not recommend this book because a) the paper it’s printed on smells bad and b) it’s written in text-book speak, which I loathe. However, I’ve come around and find that it’s okay to recommend it, especially if you let it sit outside to air out the first week you get it. It’s definitely a comprehensive book. Get it for the chapter on projections, alone, if you want to delve into the math a bit. The multivariate mapping chapter is also excellent, with lots of examples to get you through. While one must wince a bit at the fact that there are “color plates” (who calls them that anymore?!) at the back, which the publishers did to save on printing costs, we can try to get past that and appreciate it for what it is: one of the most comprehensive cartography manuals out there.
# 6 Envisioning Information, Edward Tufte, 1990

A classic book that can’t not be mentioned.* It’s not a cartography book, per se, but it features a lot of maps (pages 36, 40-41, 74-76, 80, 83, 91, 93-95, just to name a few). I think the reason that this book resonates with people, and all of Tufte’s books really, is that it kicks you in the pants. When you read it, you feel as though you want to–you need to–incorporate his principles in order to not let the guy down. It’s not simply a “here’s what works” type of book. It is a compendium of Tufte’s own analytic explorations of everything from the vast variation in copies of a cave drawing to dance annotations that Tufte says “bring about and enable the joy growing from the comprehension of complexity, from finding pattern and form amidst commotion.” It’s a book to both gaze at and study.
#5 Creativity Today, Byttebier et al, 2009

Creativity Today is absolutely chock-full of inspiration. It details the creative inspiration process, talks about why people are afraid of new ideas, shows you how to talk during design charettes (e.g., “can you explain it to me?”) to get the most out of them, and throws in some brain teasers along the way. I honestly have no idea why this book hasn’t done well in the marketplace. It hasn’t gotten much attention though I’ve found it to be useful enough that bits of it have made it into my talks and blog posts since I first bought it in 2009. I’ve used its ideas to help a client come up with alternate URLs for their company, and I’ve used its doodling ideas to jump start my brain prior to creative map exercises.
#4 1000 Fonts, Martin et al 2009

What can I say? The book has a thousand fonts! If that’s not enough to excite you, I don’t know what to do. :) The fonts are split into serif, sans serif, display, script, and monospaced categories. Each has a little blurb about it, a letter chart, and a Latin dummy text paragraph for each of the main styles and weights. A small, fat, reference book that will help you appreciate the sheer variety of typefaces out there that can make your next map a knock-out.
#3 Thinking With Type, Ellen Lupton, 2010

What 1000 Fonts doesn’t give you is what Thinking With Type does give you: a comprehensive font use guide. I’ve read through this book from cover to cover at least twice and re-read parts dozens of times. The cover is curled up from so much use that I now always put it face-down, so the curling doesn’t bug as much. It explains all the essentials about typefaces: from terminology (what’s a serif and what’s a sans serif?), to a discussion about The Well Designed Comma, to spacing and meaning. Richly illustrated and lovingly crafted. An inspiration in both form and function, just as our maps ought to be!
#2 Strange Maps

Strange Maps is entertaining. Page 106 bears the title, “The Aroostook War (Bloodless if You Don’t Count the Pig).” You may not find specific inspiration for your maps in this book but you will broaden your image of what maps can be used for–The Land of Oz anyone? I’ve always found the Strange Maps blog strangely compelling and have never had a problem being similarly compelled to pick up this book during times of ebbing enthusiasm as an effective pick-me-up.
#1 How To Lie With Maps, Mark Monmonier, 1996

How To Lie With Maps has been a staple on cartographer’s bookshelves for years and years, and regularly hits #1 on the Amazon Cartography bestseller list. It’s a slim volume that entertains and educates at the same time. Monmonier discusses how cartographers can mess up census statistical mapping, how they can use colors to both attract and detract, how maps are used for political propaganda, and other topical gems. Besides, anyone who can come off well using the Midwestern word “tickled” that my grandmother used to use (e.g., “…residents of both places are tickled to see their towns mentioned.” page 65) is a hit with me.


*You know it’s good when it brings out the double-negative in me.

Happy New Year

January 3rd, 2014

It’s been a busy few weeks around here so there hasn’t been a post. But that’s okay, nobody was around to read posts anyway, I’m sure! We’ve been doing lots of skiing at our favorite out-of-the-way podunk downhill place in Wyoming. Which reminds me of this old Wyoming map:

Now I’m started on The New Year’s Project. Painting the dining room to create a swanky new room-scape. We’re going with dark purple. If I’ve got the time I’ll paint two huge acrylic black and silver owl paintings to go on the wall. And we’ll put the black map sticker back up too.


Black, silver, and dark purple. Now there’s a sweet color palette for a dining room. I say this now, before it’s done. You know, Helen Keller said, “Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement. Nothing can be done without hope and confidence.”

Confidence at the beginning of a project is often due to sheer ignorance of the size of a project and the effort required to finish it. This goes for map making as well. In the middle of the project is where you start to lose faith but hopefully perservere to the last phase of the project, which envelopes you in exhaustion and hatred for all things related to what you’re doing. The only thing that allows a person to finish is determinitation not to be a loser. Basically.

Mark Twain: “To succeed in life, you need two things: ignorance and confidence.”

Someone asked me the other day how I have been in business for so long (since 2001) when a lot of other solo GIS consultants have called it quits. They thought for sure that I must be a whiz at networking. On the contrary, I wish I were. I’m terrible at networking. But somehow I manage to hold on to clients who stay for many years. It’s probably that dogged need I have to finish something as well as I can.

Once I spent an entire weekend, almost around the clock retrofitting a client’s backpack GPS unit so it work with an HP iPAQ (remember those?). It required a special ferry trip to Seattle to go to an electronics part store and many calls to an electrical engineer who I got on board to help out with the wiring. I was given the task literally on a Thursday and had to have it delivered to the client by Monday morning so his field crew could go out and survey manholes before he left for a 6 week Alaskan fishing trip.

Another time a client needed a cms “like yesterday” for their website. I knew nothing about it but I broke out my superperson costume and saved the day (okay, it took a couple of days to implement, but still.)

One client has stayed with me since 2003. My hope 2014 brings more work from old clients and perhaps some new.

What are your 2014 projects? What are your “I need it yesterday” client moments? Let’s hope I don’t have to call in a superman consultant to finish this New Year’s dining room ren-o. :)

First coat. It'll look better when it's done, I swear!

Cartographer's Toolkit

Map Making Tips, Tricks, and Inspiration